Work in Progress: A School”s “Mastery Guidelines”

In suburban St. Louis, Missouri, Parkway South High School”s Enrichment Coordinator, Anne White, offers these “plus, minus, and interesting” observations from the early stages of the school”s Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), in which students may outline their own high-level performance to qualify for a “mastery” designation on their transcripts.

Students want to be in charge of their own learning.
Students who initiate projects usually do so because they “just want to,” not because finishing mastery offers rewards.
Students are willing to take risks.
Students want to present to an audience.
Having the program puts the facilitator in touch with students who may need curriculum differentiation. Individual projects shift the responsibility for learning to the students, where it belongs.
Students sense the need for quality products.

The process for mastery is at first confusing to students.
Students embrace the idea with enthusiasm but burn out before completing the specifics.
Students become frustrated when there is not enough time.
The facilitator needs contact with the students on a regular basis.
Students lack skills related to organization, awareness of resources, and quality products.
Students are not always successful in finding staff mentors.
Supervising 100 or more students requires administrative and clerical work (due partly to state guide lines for gifted-talented programs).

Schoolwide Enrichment Model is attracting all types of students, though some identified students are not interested.
An exhibition date may provide a target for completion.
In some ways, the way the school functions on a daily basis is incompatible with SEM (as when the theater is too heavily booked for additional student use).
Students appear to be most attracted to mastery projects in Artistic Interpretation and Creation.
Some students prefer creative expression as a diversion from demanding academic classes.
Some staff members are willing to compact curriculum for SEM students.
Mastery is most appropriate for juniors and seniors, though freshmen can set targets.
Freshmen and sophomores (and some seniors) focus more on enrichment projects that may not be related to mastery.
Each performance area basically consists of research and presentation.
Projects should be structured so students can synthesize learning in and out of class.
Mastery makes the most sense when it is explained one on one.